The Shelf Life and Storage of Pepper Spray

Too many people who purchase pepper spray stow it away in convenient locations and then forget about it. It is crucial that you replace your pepper spray every few years, or it will lose effectiveness. Can you think of anything worse than pulling out your pepper spray in a self defense situation, only to find that it no longer works as it should? Pepper spray that was purchased five or more years ago should not be relied on to stop an attack. If you can't remember when you bought it, it is probably time for a replacement.

Like any other aerosol spray product, the ingredients allowing the pepper spray to come out of the can in a fine mist break down over time. If you try to spray pepper spray that has gone too far past its shelf life, it may sputter out of the can rather than coming out in the solid, forceful stream that you are expecting. If too much of the aerosol propellant has leaked from the can, it may not spray at all. In other cases, it may not spray as far as usual. As a result, you may have to get closer to your attacker in order for the spray to reach them.

A pepper spray's effectiveness resulting from a chemical compound known as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) may also become reduced over time. A natural compound derived from hot peppers, there is some evidence that OC may become less effective over time, particularly if the canister has been stored in  excessive sunlight. If the OC has degraded, the chemical potency may be reduced, meaning that the pepper spray will be less effective in taking your attacker down quickly. However, research has shown that as the pepper spray passes its expiration date, the propellant allowing the pepper spray to leave the can is more likely to become ineffective than the pepper spray itself.

The average effective life of pepper spray is about 3 to 4 years. Most will have an expiration date stamped on the canister; take a look so that you can make a mental note of when it should be replaced. If your canister does not have an expiration date, most experts advise replacing it the next time you change your smoke alarm batteries, which should be done yearly. By replacing your pepper spray on a yearly schedule, you can be assured that it will work exactly as you expect when you need it.

You can also test the effectiveness of the aerosol propellant in your can of pepper spray. Outdoors and standing upwind, spray a one second burst. Does it come out in a solid stream, or does it sputter? Once you replace your pepper spray, the old canister can be used for training and practice on an outdoor target. Be very careful not to spray yourself with the pepper spray when testing or training.

Proper storage of your pepper spray can extend its shelf life. Always store it at room temperature. Extremes of either hot or cold can cause changes in the chemicals inside the canister. Very hot temperatures, such as those found inside your car on a summer day, can even cause the canister to burst.

By James Shaw

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